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May 07, 2013


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Jeff Matthews

It's a good point, but hardly novel. The American Indians maintained this 300 years ago.


I think "Property law served as a tool of empire in Hawaii" is misleading. Yes, missionaries brought property law in the 1820s and Hawaii became part of the American Empire in 1898. Land tenure certainly contributed to annexation since many of the largest landowners were also the 1893 coup plotters.

But, any simple imperialist story ignores that Hawaiians negotiated and enacted the Mahele. From unifying the islands to the overthrow of kapu (taboo) to later changes in government, native Hawaiians changed their society after contact, but not as tool of empire.

Alfred Brophy

Haole, thanks for joining the conversation. Lots of stuff to talk about here -- the process of shifting to western patterns of land holding obviously involved actions by Natives as well as by westerners. To say that "Native Hawaiians changed their society after contact" makes the role of westerns seem passive, which obviously they were not.

I'm not arguing that western law was the only tool of empire; there were many -- and there were some Native Hawaiians who participated in the process of colonization. But in this process the power of westerners and their tools of empire (the ship, the gun, the written word) were great. I'd be interested in your thoughts on my paper, "How Missionaries Thought: About Property Law, For Instance." That's less about who was doing what and more about how missionaries understood/depicted Native property law and what Missionaries hoped to contribute to Hawaii:

Jeff Matthews

You 2 are right. There is typically "Native" involvement in the process. This still happens today. It goes like this:

Corporate America needs to exploit foreign resources for cheap. It lobbies the administration's military and quasi-military armed services to "protect OUR interests abroad." We find some natives who our willing to sell out their own people in exchange for American protection and a piece of the take (and/or some other advantage).

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